There is dispute about whether he hurt himself with his homily at the beginning of the conclave. Another interpretation is that he deliberately set a dour tone in order to reduce the prospect of his being elected; the premise being that he will accept but does not want the office.

There might be something to that. It is no secret that he earnestly desires to return to his work as an academic theologian and acceded to John Paul’s desire that he head up the Doctrine of the Faith very reluctantly and only under obedience. He tried to resign in 1991, in 1996, and again in 2001. But, as he has described it, when he saw the determined obedience of the frail John Paul II in continuing until the end, he could not bring himself to insist upon resigning.

Observers jumped on Ratzinger’s homiletical reference to a “dictatorship of relativism,” and the headlines are already written announcing the election of the reactionary, archconservative, doctrinal enforcer Joseph Ratzinger. In fact, the homily was a call for an “adult faith” that rejected the “extremes” of agnosticism or fundamentalism, of skepticism or fideism. Amid all the pomp and glory and media hype, Ratzinger reminded the cardinals that it all means exactly nothing apart from Jesus Christ. Challenging the liberal-vs.-conservative dichotomy that is the staple of the comic-strip caricatures offered by media chatter, he insisted that love without truth is blind, and truth without love is–and here he quoted 1 Corinthians–but a clanging cymbal.

I have known the man for more than twenty years, and the homily was Ratzinger straight: precise, intense, radically Christocentric, and marked by a tranquil and humble obedience to the truth. Commenting on the words of the Lord that he calls the disciples not servants but friends, Ratzinger ended on the winsome note, “Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship.”